One month has passed since we held a formal opening of Horses for Hope. It was a bitterly cold day, totally miserable, the skies threatening a downpour. My guests and I went over to the stables early, to ensure our arrival whilst we could traverse the muddy track which was about to become a bog.
We peered at the mountains, scrutinized the dreadful black skies, asking for two hours without the ominous deluge. Dr Saeed called suggesting postponement, which yes was kind of obvious but I strongly felt that we should (as we so often do) push through.
I lack the words to describe the cosmic intervention. It was as if presence dispelled the bad weather, presence erected a barrier of resistance, presence took the land and our two new employees, for its new purpose. Presence overcame. Presence won hands down.
Our setting out point began in the late summer of 2021 with a piece of barren land owned by members of the local El Quaidi tribe who believed in our goal. Our setting out point began with a vision and without a cent. Our setting out point began with visits to the lumberyard, hammer, nails and a piece of string as a measuring rod. Our setting out point began with Zoom calls and endless WhatApp instructions.
And here we were gathered, by and with the grace of God, humbled by the generosity of those who could see the still invisible and would entrust us with the finance needed to make it visible. Overwhelmed by this new chapter, and in full recognition of our lack of experience. One friend is known to have commented “they have a lot of faith but know nothing.”
We soon approach Pesach where we will ask the question that has been asked for generations, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” I found myself asking my four questions as we contented with the bitter elements that afternoon. Why is Horses for Hope different? How is it different? What is its destiny? Whom should it serve?
Everything about Horses for Hope is unknown. Who are our trainers? Who manages this incredible stable that is fit for a king? Two Yezidi young men who were leaders when taken into captivity of the Islamic State. Two who ran close to Al Baghdadi. Two who ensured that his decrees were obeyed implicitly. Two who presided as judges in the Caliphate courts of justice supervising the punishments of the State. Two who were treated with suspicion and fear upon their ransom from ISIS. Two for whom many in the community pressed the “delete” button. Two over whom Dr Saeed and I have labored and wrestled many a long hour, many a long month, continually weighing up the “what ifs” and the “what if nots”. Two young men quite similar to the Biblical Moses, murderers turned leaders. Two men with a spirit similar to that of Joshua and Caleb. Two men who gently won our respect and gained our trust.
These are the two young men, to whom we entrust the building, its protection, its security and its maintenance, to whom we entrust the horses their wellbeing and destiny, to whom we entrust our students and those who come in need of healing. Two who will lead many. I recall how the Lord God in Exodus 14, “twisted, caused to wobble, clogged, jammed, took off” the chariot wheels of the Egyptians as the Israelites crossed the Sea of Reeds. I have a feeling that these two, the “Joshua” and “Caleb’ of Mesopotamia 2022 are going to witness many chariot wheels of war and terror in the forms PTSD, of OCD, of mental, emotional and spiritual disease and illness being dismantled as they walk through this sea of reeds propagated by Daesh. They know what it is when “cords of death entangle”. They know “the anguish of Sheol” Psalm 116. This is their crossing over time, and in the very act of so doing, they are forging a way ahead for many who will take their example, this time the example of life, healing, hope and future. Two young men, whose identities were forever changed when they accepted the keys to Horses for Hope. All remnants of the identities of Abu Anas Alqardashi and Abu Abdulwahad, names they had been given in captivity, shriveled up, forever destroyed by the power of Hope.
The opening ceremony was different from any other. It was a procession of entrance, a procession of welcome. As in the ancient biblical pattern, when the tribes moved, they were led by the priests, those who played the instruments. To honor the progression of the journey being made by our tribe, we let the musicians lead on the flute and the daf, followed by our two young men on their horses, Taj ( Crown ) and Nawroz ( New Day ). It was an incredibly emotional and moving ceremony. One of our guests shared that she had seen our drivers, tough, middle aged Yezidi guys “tearing up” as they realized that “even if the vision tarries, wait for it” Habakkuk 2.
I have spoken enough, allow me to hand over to our two young trainers and our student family all of whom were rescued from captivity of the black flag people.
“This is a new day for me, a new chapter of my life. At the moment I have no words to express exactly all and how I feel. It will take time for me to put words to my emotions. I am so very overwhelmed and honored that I am a part of this.” Daoud Trainer. Horses for Hope.
“After years of wandering, I have come home. I am blessed. I am lucky. I will learn ways of kindness instead of cruelty. I have come home. I have more to say but not today, I have so much emotion.” Barzan Trainer. Horses for Hope.
“I would like to take a moment and to thank SOHF for opening this incredible project for us. You always think about the very thing that we need, although we are not aware of our need. You always put your finger on the right button and open new doors for us, doors for life. Yes, these indeed are Horses for Hope. For healing our wounds. Thank you.” Salah
“I dreamt of horses while I was in captivity. Horses would visit me, and just seeing them in my dreams helped me survive each day. Now the horses are reality. I can see them with my daylight eyes. I can touch them. This is a new day for me, and for each one of us.” Kristina
“It was such a cold, dismal day, but even though I was freezing, I was comfortable because everything about the opening of Horses for Hope promised healing. I loved their entrance, the way that the horses came to their new home after the singing of the daf group while we clapped our hands and welcomed them. The building is so beautiful, the land so rich and peaceful, the skies so open. I can imagine myself sitting there drawing or sewing, just hanging out with the horses. This will be an oasis of healing for us. It really is a New Day.” Zainab
“You opened such an important project, especially for those of us who were in the captivity of Daesh. My friends and I were discussing this and some of us dreamt about horses while we were in Syria, never believing that we would be here, let alone in the presence of the horses. The horses heal us just by a glance. We hope that you will bring more horses because two are not enough for us all. We all have psychological issues, we all need horses to help with our healing process.” Daham
“Wow! This was one of the best days of my life. I was very interested in the names which Miss Lisa gave the horses, names with great significance in our culture. Taj means Crown, and Nawroz, a new day. I felt that today our Kurdish New Year, Nawroz will be crowned with hope and future. Seeing the horses walk in gave me hope for a new life, gave me hope to dream again, and to hold on to all that is inside me, it will happen. Seeing the new life that B and D are now making, gave me hope that I too will crown my future. I am so excited, I am so blessed to see this day come to SOHF and to my life.” Faiza
“You began with nothing, and now look! You began with a dream which is like a seed. You put it in the ground and believed in it, and here it is. This is such a life lesson for me personally, it has taught me to begin with the small things, take care of them and the goals, the dreams will be fulfilled, even if it takes time. It will happen. Now I am waiting to visit the horses and make friends with them. I think that I will share my dreams with them.” Yusra
“I know that just being here, by watching the way the horses move, in the pure fresh air, these things will heal me. I love the color of Taj and Nawroz. I love their soft body and smooth mane. I want to make friends with them. I hope that they will like me.” Aziza
“I am never emotional but today I was. I was so so happy to see the horses, many emotions came into my mind and my body, emotions that made me feel safe and comfortable. I so want to learn how to take care of them, touch them and ride them.” Sufyan
Just a few days after the official opening of Horses for Hope, we celebrated the Kurdish New Year. This coming week we will celebrate the Yezidi New Year. A new day, a new season is upon us. It is a time of putting a stake in the ground whilst all is shaking. It is a time of building a secure place in a season of war. It is time for those who are being healed to extend their healing to others. We still have many needs. From new tack, to additional horses. We need to focus on the second floor which will be our training rooms and educational centre. The summer is soon upon us, we need to build shade over the outside arena and round pen. If you can help, please do, if you can help to network with us on behalf of those whose journey of healing is gaining momentum, please do. We have come a long way in a short time, but the journey will not be complete without the upper floor coming into being, and without additional horses. God willing, next week I will share about the impact that the horses have had on our trainers and our family since opening one month ago. Thank you.